Fulgrim

Fulgrim

Fulgrim – Graham McNeill; Black Library

Fulgrim by Graham McNeill is the fifth novel in the Warhammer 40k Horus Heresy series.  It’s also the largest of the first five – running just over 500 pages.  It was published in 2007 and the cover artist was, again, Neil Roberts.  McNeill is the author of the second Horus Heresy novel as well as a few others in the Warhammer 40k collection.

The Warhammer 40k universe is one of my favorites. I am an absolute sucker for science fiction, fantasy, and battles of good versus evil. I like vast armies, huge dramatic storylines, and futuristic settings. A lot of “classy” readers probably would disdain most of Warhammer 40k because it isn’t great literature and is usually derivative of any number of archetypes in the genre.  However, I just love the universe and the characters and the stories.  It’s fun and interesting.  And yes, it is melodramatic.  And yes, in some books the writing is somewhat more juvenile or action-descriptive.  But it’s so much dang fun!

I’m obviously a science fiction fanatic.  And I love reading the classics of science fiction – good, quality, heady stuff for sure.  But really nothing is so deliciously engrossing as a Horus Heresy novel.  I am a big proponent of readers enjoying the books they are reading. If I am reading for entertainment, I want to be entertained.  There is also plenty of room for thought-provoking or challenging. Alter the paradigms, show the parallax, explore conceptual edifices – but let me still have my fun!

Fulgrim is not the best of the first five Horus Heresy novels. I do think in some places the story stalls and the characters chase their tails a bit.  In other words, yeah, this novel could have been whittled down to, say, 420 pages.   And while some novels desperately need to be chopped and halved, since this is Warhammer 40k and I am insanely in love with it, I do not really mind the stuffing.  The first two books of the series were awesome. Without a doubt.  Books four and five kind of circle back around to the events in book three – showing us the events from a different perspective, involving different characters, etc.  Some readers might not like this re-telling of events.  However, in both books, the storyline does move forward.  In Fulgrim, the last quarter of the book deals with the situation on Isstvan V – where the primarchs and their legions engaged in knowing, violent combat over the purpose and goal of the Great Crusade.

In the first half of the novel, the reader learns about the Primarch Fulgrim.  I like learning about each of the primarchs, though Fulgrim himself is not one I’m a real fan of.  He is so prissy and fancy.  He is still a formidable warrior, but his obsession with the concept of perfection and the appearance of his legion is obnoxious.  In other words, it’s easy to hate him and easy to see how he was pulled into the Horus Heresy. There are several neat things that the author does to this character to demonstrate the changes in him and how it affects the Emperor’s Children (his legion of space marines).  Most of them are interesting and reasonable grounding for the character’s actions.  Some are just a little flat or perhaps they are a little too obvious.

Fulgrim – the book and the character – develops from the author’s usage of concepts of aesthetics.  Art appreciation, perfection in art, working to create art, etc. Some of this might seem a bit silly to readers who want warfare in the distant future, but actually I was impressed that the author chose to utilize this stuff.  For example, I really do encourage any fans of the series to read William Blake’s The Book of Urizen either before or after reading Fulgrim.  It’s interesting and contextualizes. It’s also kind of fun to see Blake-ian concepts utilized in pulp science fiction!  I haven’t read The Book of Urizen since…. 1997?…. so I am actually looking forward to just flipping through that again.

Of note, Fulgrim contains some of the more “graphic” scenes in the series so far.  There are not any “bad words,” but the imagery can be a bit intense.  So, if you are really drawn into the book and have a good imagination, the latter half of the book has some scenes dealing with xenos/chaos forces that might be a bit ugly to imagine. The descriptions, though, do border slightly on the purple prose sort of structure in places.  It is not necessarily there for shock value – it does play into the plotline.  Either way, be advised to expect this. I liked elements of this section and disliked elements, as well. For example, there is something both really cool and really silly about the concept of auditory chaos, discordance, and atonal effects being used by/on space marines.

Overall, four stars – because I am a Warhammer 40k fan addict. Three stars if you are judging based on everything else. (Again, my blog, my prerogative!)

4 stars

Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter; Black Library

The third book in the “opening trilogy” of the Horus Heresy by Ben Counter was another fantastic read. I highly recommend the Horus Heresy series at this point – even though I have only read the first three. I definitely intend to continue reading the series. Galaxy in Flames follows after the second novel, False Gods. The first novel was written by Dan Abnett, the second by Graham McNeill. This is the first novel I have read by Ben Counter. The cover art, which is fantastic, was done by Neil Roberts.

This is an excellent read. It continues the intense, gripping storyline of the Horus Heresy, in which Warmaster Horus turns against the Emperor. Although it is just as intense as the previous two novels, I feel the first quarter of this novel was slightly off the high-mark set by the previous two novels. It is not easy to point out exactly what was “not quite as good,” but I think it is because instead of focusing on one character (Garviel Loken), Counter spreads his attention among the entire cast. This works very well, but after spending so much time in the first two books with Loken, I think I missed hanging out with Loken. The front half of this novel is slightly more superficial than the previous two books. However, this matters less and less as the novel proceeds, because the tension and drama increase enough to make up for it.

Treachery, duplicity, betrayal, and rebellion end in a fierce, violent conclusion that destroys a planet (Isstvan III).  The last stand of the loyalists, including Garviel Loken, Saul Tarvitz, and Tarik Torgaddon, is done really well. Lucius the swordsman also has a role to play that will make readers cringe and wail.

Meanwhile, the non-warriors (the iterators and scribes) scurry through the Vengeful Spirit, working to maintain their loyalty to the Emperor while trying to stay alive. Lots of Space Marines die in this novel – and lots of Space Marines are forced to choose between sides between the Warmaster and the Emperor.  Everyone else is caught in the crossfire and has to make choices that are far from easy.

I love the Horus Heresy series.  It incorporates everything I want in a space opera, science fiction, drama, war story. The characters are great, the storyline is great, the writing is well above-average and oftentimes excellent. I love the cover art for all of the novels.  Along the way, the reader explores concepts of brotherhood, loyalty, faith, and warfare.  I find myself putting the book down at points just to revel in the dramatic tension.  Tarvitz says: “Warheads?”  – and I had to put the book down and just cringe. But on page 212, Tarvitz has commandeered a Thunderhawk – but Horus has sent fighters after him. Again, put the book down, cringe and worry. Page 268, Qruze is no longer the “half-heard” and his epic heroism shows through! Put the book down and swell with pride for Qruze. For the emperor!

There are not many books that the reader can get this invested in the storyline and the characters. If I come across such books, I am so thrilled; I definitely evangelize: hey! Read this series!  I am going to continue reading along. I cannot stop with the last words of the book (Horus speaking): “Then we strike for Terra!”

4 stars

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